Negron: Her Heart is a Yankee Miracle

Ten years ago, I brought Yankee rookie outfielder Brett Gardner to visit some sick kids at a hospital in Manhattan. This is a tradition that was actually taught to me by the great Yankee catcher and Captain, Thurman Munson. He quietly would go to hospitals and schools as long as there would not be any fanfare surrounding the event because he didn’t want any distractions to mess up the event from the kids.

Reggie was also very good in these settings because he was never afraid to show affection towards these kids. Bobby Murcer was very sentimental when it came to visiting kids or adults in hospitals. Bobby actually showed me that it was ok to cry. The Boss, George Steinbrenner, was great because he would make the kids feel like they were his equal.

One of the great visits I got to share with a Yankee was when I had plans to visit a little boy at a hospital with Chien-Ming Wang. I got up that morning and looked at the sports page and realized that he was pitching that day. There is an unwritten rule that says that if a starting pitcher is pitching that day he is not supposed to do any kind of an appearance. So I called Wang and mentioned this to him. He immediately asked, is this visit going to be so tough that it’s going to affect my start. I said probably not but that’s the rule. Wang said look if you don’t want to come because you might get in trouble then don’t come, however I am not going to let that kid in the hospital down. So he went and I did go with him and I did get reprimanded for taking him. However, Wang did pitch a great game that night in beating the Orioles and the little boy in the hospital had a wonderful visit with the then great Yankee. It’s something that, to this day, he has never forgotten.

When I took Brett Gardner to the hospital, he met a young lady who had been waiting and praying for a heart. With each passing day things were not looking good. Brett actually got to sit in front of a lot of the kids in the hospital and read one of my children’s books. (The Greatest Story Never Told)

After finishing up and signing some autographs for everyone we started to walk out. A girl by the name of Alyssa Esposito went up to Brett and said if you take my bracelet you will hit a home run tonight. The girl said please take it because someway this might help me. Brett smiled and took it. When we got in the car, Brett said I’m not playing tonight and if I play you know I don’t hit home runs. I said, look Brett you did a wonderful job with all the kids and you never know what’s going to happen tonight. Well Brett was right, he wasn’t in the starting lineup however Johnny Damon got into an argument with the umpire and got thrown out of the game. Brett Gardner batted for Damon and he hit a fly ball down the left field line that got past Twins left fielder Denard Span and went all the way to the wall. Gardner raced all around the bases at about 100 miles an hour for the first inside the park homer at the new Yankee Stadium.

As Gardner was celebrating in the dugout, another miracle was happening. The doctors at the hospital were telling Alyssa that they had found her a heart. Ten years later she is a strong beautiful woman who is about to get married in October. She is a strong believer in God and she strongly believes that God sent Brett Gardner to the hospital that day.

Yesterday I got together with Alyssa at the Project Sunshine fundraiser. I got to meet her fiancé. I marveled at her confidence as she addressed the 800 people at the event as she thanked Project Sunshine, the Yankees, her Family and fiancé, and of course her hero who hit her the home run that she so badly needed at that time, Brett Gardner.

I guess that was just another Yankee Miracle.

A special thank you to Sally Cook from Project Sunshine for always pushing me into bringing the players to visit the kids.

Negron: Tip of the Cap Helps ALS Battler Dan Colon

Dan Colon is a 52-year old baseball player from the sandlots of New York and New Jersey. As a kid, he lived in the Bronx and Manhattan. Like most kids of that era, he had the dream of playing in the big leagues. Dan was a very good player, a third baseman, but he fell just short of his dream. Dan went to college, got married, had kids and continued to play baseball. He played for so long and so well in these leagues that he would become a sandlot legend. Always a true gentleman, he was well liked by the players that interacted with him.

Two years ago, he played in a major adult tournament at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In his final game there, he played so well both offensively and defensively that they were comparing him to Yankee legend Graig Nettles. Play after play, his glove was like a magnet. As fate would have it, Dan even stroked a big double to help win the game. Afterwards, the kids that were there would ask Dan for his autograph. That was truly Dan’s big moment in the sun.

However, fate would not be so kind. Shortly after getting home, Dan started feeling a little strange. His hands were not feeling right. He started having trouble combing his hair. All the little things that we take for granted, Dan was having trouble doing. He started going to doctors for all sorts of exams until he got the horrible news that no one would ever want to hear. Dan has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclorosis or ALS and as it’s come to be known, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” a disease that affects one’s motor skills.

When Dan was telling me about what he’s going through, I couldn’t help but think of the movie, “Pride of the Yankees.” I immediately thought of the scene when Gehrig couldn’t put on his tie. I also though about the fact that just like Dan, Gehrig was a wonderful person.

I asked Dan what keeps him going from day to day and he tells me that, naturally, the love and support that his family gives him and then without skipping a beat, he says his ‘love of the Yankees.’ The fact that he can watch all the games and really stay mentally involved with the team helps him so very much.

Just recently, he was watching a great pitching performance by James Paxton. The left hander struck out 12 hitters in 6 innings. It was the second consecutive start that Paxton struck out 12. It was also a game that, even though it’s early in the season, the Yankees needed a start like that out of Paxton in order to preserve the pitching staff.

The thing that really impressed Dan about the Yankee pitcher was when Yankee Mgr. Aaron Boone came to take him out of the game, Paxton tipped his cap and waved to the fans. Dan asked me when was the last time that you saw that? I told him that it was Jim “Catfish” Hunter. I told Dan that “Catfish” was one of the classiest players that I had ever met in baseball. Just a wonderful man. I told Dan that “Catfish” was the same type person as Dan is. What is ironic is that at just about the same age that “Catfish” would get ALS, Dan was also afflicted with the dreaded disease.

Dan asked me what kind of person James Paxton is. I told him we have had limited conversations but it has always been about reaching out to help kids and charities. Dave Valle, the former catcher and MLB broadcaster, has told me what a terrific young man Paxton is. So Dan responded by saying that he roots for all the Yankees but will root a little harder for James Paxton, just so that he can see that little tip of the cap and also think of “Catfish” Hunter.

Dan asked me if “Catfish” was a fighter? I told Dan that “Catfish” was just like you. With that, Dan said, then he fought ’til the end.

If you would like to help Dan with his fight:

https://www.gofundme.com/RallyCaps-HelpDansCostofALS

Negron: Hank, A Regular Guy

Frank Tack baseball field, Clearwater, Florida.

It was a warm and somewhat foggy night. Two teams are battling it out. Mostly teenagers and guys in their twenties. The only exception is 57-year old Aris Sakellaridis, the oldest guy in the league.

It had been a pretty uneventful game until the 6th inning when all of a sudden a tall figure was walking in from the right field parking lot. It seemed as if everyone stopped what they were doing to see who the figure was. It looked like an old classic picture of the great actor James Dean.

Well it wasn’t James Dean, it was Yankee co-Chairman Hank Steinbrenner who decided to come to the game to see his friend Aris play. The young players, and for that matter all the players, were blown away that Hank would come down to the field to watch everyday people play.

Aris would respond to that statement by saying that Hank is a regular person who appreciates the good in all. After Aris grounded out, Hank grabbed a bat and gave him some proper batting tips. In some of their conversation Hank even told him about proper pitching mechanics, just in case Aris would be brought in to pitch. Joking around, Hank said I’m taking over and the first thing I’m gonna do is change the name of this team from the Pandas to a more masculine name like “Bullfrogs.”

Michael Kelly is the Pandas’ designated hitter. As it turned out he had been a spring training intern for the Yankees. Now he works for the Yanks class A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons. Kelly is the public address announcer during the Tarpons’ games.

In between at bats he got to spend time with Hank getting advice on steps he should take in order to advance in the world of sports management. Hank could not have been nicer in his advice to this aspiring young man. He was like a professor talking to his pupil.

One by one some of the other players and some parents would come over to shake Hank’s hand. As you stand next to this man and listen to him talk about different subjects you realize how much he really has to give to the world.

This morning I was watching the animated film “Henry & Me.” I had forgotten that Hank did the voice of his father, George Steinbrenner. He may have been the best actor in that film. I must add that the other actors were named Richard Gere, Luis Guzman, and two Oscar Nominated actors named Danny Aiello and Chazz Palminteri.

I guess he is just like James Dean.

Negron: “Love At First Bite”

George Hamilton and Ray Negrons

Last week I had the pleasure of having my off Broadway play, “Batboy, A Yankee Miracle,” performed by my cast in Hernando County, Florida, for the U.S. Veterans and First Responders. I also got to do two, one-man shows with the original music of the incredible Alex Martin for the Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida where 100% of the proceeds went to the area charities.

After the shows at the Academy, I had a reunion of sorts with the legendary actor George Hamilton. It was “Love at first bite!” (Title of the 1979 Horror Comedy movie that starred George Hamilton as Dracula)  Actually it had been probably 40 years since the last time that we had seen each other.

The first thing out of Mr. Hamilton’s mouth was “I remember your hair well, what happened to it.” He was referring to the fact that I had a rather large Afro hairstyle in the decade of the 70s. Now I keep it short and straight. I told Mr. Hamilton that it’s called old age. He looked at me and laughed.

We got a chance to talk about how much he liked George Steinbrenner and the great relationship that the Boss had with his dear friend Cary Grant. Mr. Hamilton told me how terrific the Admiral Academy had been for his son George Jr.

My pal Aris, who is in the Batboy play, was thrilled to meet the distinguished Mr. Hamilton and actually brought him a gift. Aris asked him if he had seen the new Yankee Stadium yet and Mr. Hamilton said he had not. So Aris said ‘I have a special gift for you.’ Aris handed him a small box and inside was a replica plaque of the great George Steinbrenner. “Wow,” Mr Hamilton responded. He said that he would ‘always cherish this gift because he thought that George Steinbrenner was just a really good man.’

George HamiltonMr. Hamilton said he would always have fond memories of his great Hollywood friends and him visiting with the Boss during those Championship games in the 70s at the old Yankee Stadium.

Work in Baseball Film Very Personal to Me

It ‘s opening day and I just finished reading the fabulous book“Big Fella,” the very thorough story of Babe Ruth.

Having met members of the Ruth family throughout the years, I was able to truly appreciate some of the Babes intimate family moments.

It also made me understand why he loved kids so much. His feelings about them was a wonderful reminder of how great the big George (Steinbrenner) of my era was.

Approximately 10 years ago, I agreed to participate in an animated film entitled “Henry & Me,” a story about a young boy battling cancer who is taken on a magical adventure by a stranger named Henry. During their journey, the boy meets New York Yankee legends, both past and present, who give him lessons about baseball — and life.

I actually received a signing bonus and at the press conference I signed the back of the check and handed it over to Daniel Quintero, from the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club.

I also agreed that if the film made money, the proceeds would also go to the club and a couple of hospitals that I’m involved with.

Some of my great friends from the sports and entertainment world joined me in making the film including Richard Gere and Chazz Palminteri. They came into the studio to loan their voices for their characters. Danny Aiello, who appeared in “The Godfather” among other great films, blows it away as the doctor who cares for the young cancer patient.

In my heart I know that Danny’s greatness in the film is because of what he lived through in real life with his own son, who he lost to cancer several years before performing in “Henry & Me.”

I was very proud that the producers of the film thought enough of my children’s book series that they wanted to do an animated film based on those books.

To see George Steinbrenner in this film as an animated character really made me happy, because his young family members would be able see a little bit of what their grandfather and great grandfather was all about by watching the film.

To hear the Boss’s oldest son, Hank, play the role of his father so professionally was very inspiring. After five years of hard work on this project and some very wonderful reviews I felt a wonderful sense of achievement for everyone involved. After the film premiered at the Ziegfeld Theatre (with all the pomp and circumstance” I thought we had a “Disney type” of movie that would stand the test of time.

Because this was one of the very few baseball films ever done and the first with actual Yankees lending their voices, I thought, at the time, how could we go wrong?

Unfortunately as two great prophets (Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz) once said in their song, “That’s Entertainment!”

Even though my role in the film was strictly in the creative end, it broke my heart that the film did not do well commercially. It hurt even more that I was not able to give another check to my friends, the kids at the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club.

My friend, David Jurist, from Hackensack Medical Center, deals with the pediatric cancer program at the hospital and whom I support by putting together visits for the children with my many celebrity friends, kept telling me not to count on the film because motion pictures are always a “crap shoot,” no matter how good they are.

When I was reading Jane Leavy’s book on Babe Ruth, “Big Fella,” I couldn’t help but think about how beautiful this film is and how something should be done to bring it back to life again.

If for no other reason than to have kids and their parents sit down together and watch something good and something real.

I know that some of you remember me writing a “Henry & Me” story last year during opening day and I guess this is my annual plea to bring this film to prominence, where it belongs.

To purchase your copy of “Henry & Me” today please visit here.

Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, “Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers.”

Negron: Yes, It’s A Bronx Tale

Chazz Palminteri

If you ever saw the movie “A Bronx Tale,” the most prominent line in the film is when Sonny (Chazz Palminteri) says to “C,” the young boy that he is mentoring, how in life “there is nothing worse than wasted talent.”

When I saw the new commercial on the Yes network about the up and coming Yankee season, I was blown away. The ad features Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and “Sir” Didi Gregorius and his double play partner Gleyber Torres. They also have Ken Singleton, Michael Kay, John Flaherty, David Cone and Paul O’Neill.

This commercial is very tactfully and tastefully put together. Just when you think you have seen it all, in pops the great Academy Award nominated actor Chazz Palminteri. Chazz just gives the commercial that true Hollywood feeling. Charlie Santoro, a sales specialist at YES and a part time actor who plays Chazz’s assistant barber in the commercial, said that having Chazz in this role made every one bring their “A game” to the set.

I was told that Chazz was very generous in helping all the people on this job.

When I spoke to Chazz about doing this commercial he responded by saying that it was truly a lot of fun. One actor said that when you have a Chazz Palminteri on the set, it’s like the equivalent of a young player being on the field with Mickey Mantle.

I personally have spent as much time in the world of entertainment as I have in the sports world. I can honestly say that of all the actors and entertainers that I have known, I have never met a bigger Yankees fan than Chazz Palminteri.

Having Chazz in this commercial for YES was genius casting and what ever they paid him was worth every penny.

There was no wasted talent in this Bronx Tale for YES!

Negron: Bernie’s Life After Baseball

Last night I got to go to the Murray Theatre at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. The main attraction was former Yankees’ superstar Bernie Williams.

Every seat was filled with baseball fans and music lovers. Among those in the audience were some of his former teammates like David Cone, David Wells and Tino Martinez. Also on hand were Yankee icons Willie Randolph and Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.

When Bernie walked on stage, the feeling was like being at the first game of a World Series. It was as if Bernie went up to the batter’s box with his bat, then turned to the umpire and called time. He asked for the batboy, handed him his bat and the batboy then handed Bernie his guitar. At that moment Bernie proceeded to hit it out of the park.

Song after song from Bernie’s magic fingers just mesmerized everyone in the audience. The usually quiet Willie Randolph acted like a “teeny bopper” at a Beatles concert. Willie could not hold back his emotions because like everyone in the audience, the music just ran through your soul.

I have seen Bernie perform before but there just was something very magical about last night. After the show I asked Bernie if there was a difference in the emotional preparation for this show as compared to that of a World Series game and Bernie said that it was pretty much the same. He also said that just like baseball, he practices with the guitar every day.

The elegant living room setting of the Murray Theatre made it that much more magical. It made the audience feel like they were a part of the band. With that type of setting, Bernie made you feel like he was performing just for you.

The true home run in the show was when Bernie was brought back for a curtain call and he performed “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” like I have never heard it before. It literally brought the capacity crowd to its feet.

Reggie Jackson is a man that I have big time respect for.  He is also a person that knows his music. He is also the most brutally honest person that I know. With that being said I went over to him and asked him for his review of Bernie. Mr October had one word. GREAT!!!

Negron: Yanks Read The Future

Earlier this week we had batting practice rained out. A couple of days before we actually had a game rained out. When this happens it gives the players a little extra time to rest but knowing our Yanks, they would rather be playing.

The thing that really bothered me is when I walked around the ball park I see some very sad faces. I actually saw one kid crying and I asked his dad what was wrong and he said that because batting practice was canceled his son would not see Aaron Judge take batting practice.

At that point I decided to go to the trunk of my car and get some of my children’s books and give them out to some of these sad kids and try to put a smile on their faces. With the permission of the Yankees I even got to take a couple of them around the ball park to meet some of the players and they even got to read one of the books with Gleyber Torres.

The Yanks explained to the kids that it was important to put as much emphasis on reading as they do on their video games. Dellin Betances even kidded with little Michael from New York that someday he might throw 100 miles per hour also. Nick from Ghana was ecstatic when Aroldis Chapman gave him a hug.

Overall it made me feel so proud to be a part of the Yankees and see that the players really do care about the fans and especially the young ones. However Gleyber would say it best when I thanked him for taking a few minutes with the sad children that he was able to put a smile on their faces. He said kids are people too. They are our future.

That’s coming from the future of the Yankees.

Negron: Ottavino is a Lion on the Mound and a Pussycat with the Kids

Adam Ottavino has made an early impression by mowing down all the hitters that he’s faced in spring training so far. The Brooklyn born Ottavino walks on the field with this quiet confidence that says “give me the ball.” One of the newest Yankee relievers has stirred this strong excitement with the fans at the park and I continue to hear many of them ask, “Is Ottavino throwing today.”

In one breath I see a guy that’s ready to come into a game like Sparky Lyle or Mariano Rivera and just put everyone away. Later that evening, I see a very nice gentleman that enjoys his time with a bunch of kids that live in some of the best and worst areas of New York and Connecticut. We all shared a wonderful dinner together and told some very cool stories. The kids felt like they were a part of the Yankees because of the way Ottavino treated them. Whether he realized it or not, he really helped lift their self esteem and made them feel good about themselves.

Being a major leaguer is a great honor, however being a Yankee is the highest honor that a big league player can achieve.

I remember Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar once telling Yankee owner George Steinbrenner that his only regret during his wonderful big league career was the fact that he never got to play for the Yankees. That being said, Ottavino is now a “Superman” to these kids and to kids all over the Yankee Universe. I’m really happy that I got to have dinner with Ottavino and all these kids because it showed me that the Yankees got themselves a terrific pitcher and a very fine young man while New York kids got themselves someone that they can really look up to.

Negron: Young Yankee Acts Like A Role Model

Gleyber Torres has picked up where he left off this past Christmas.

During the holidays Torres arranged for hundreds of kids, that he didn’t even know, to get Christmas gifts. Today he was sharing himself and his heart with kids that need it the most. He spent his afternoon with kids from New York who usually would not have had an opportunity to meet their idols and get to sit with them and find out that they are regular people too. That was the message that Gleyber Torres gave to all of these wide eyed kids.

Gleyber’s message was very simple. Respect your parents, respect your family and coaches and do not be afraid to follow your dreams. Gleyber explained that to achieve goals in life you must be willing to sacrifice. He also told them that school and baseball go hand in hand. As much as you give the game of baseball you must also give to your education. He explained that he would not be where he is today without the love and support of his parents. Gleyber told the kids that his parents had to make a number of sacrifices for the success that he has achieved today.

Gleyber was very positive with the kids and showed them proper fielding techniques. Of course there were plenty of photos and autographs. As much as the kids loved this great opportunity, I think the parents loved it more because of the beautiful and positive message that Mr. Torres delivered. The best moment for me was when this little boy just kept staring at Gleyber. I asked him why he kept his eye on Torres and he said because I never thought I would ever meet a Yankee. “From the mouth of babes.”

Thank you Gleyber and the Yankees for always being there for the little guy.